Networking for Success
Via LinkedIn : This past week, I had the enjoyable opportunity to speak to the Fond du Lac County Imagination Network of Wisconsin entrepreneurs and inventors group. The topic was “Networking Doesn’t Have to Make You Cringe!” The comments and feedback from the attendees illustrated to me once again how intimidating networking can be to those who haven’t had some training, or at least exposure, to the basics of effective networking.
The things that cause us to avoid networking, or to do it poorly (i.e. with few results) usually result from our own “head trash”. These are the thoughts and fears we harbor that hold us back from doing those uncomfortable things that could actually bring us greater results. Some of the head trash thoughts that are typical include the following:
- Networking events are just for socializing. I get no business benefit from them.
- At networking events, it’s hard to have great conversations because of all the cliques that I’m not a part of.
- I’m not the pushy type, so I feel awkward about thrusting myself on other networkers.
- I don’t know how to tell people about my business in a way that piques their interest without dominating the conversation.
- I’m an introvert, so it’s hard for me to put myself “out there”.
Business owners often have an expectation that they should network, but they may not know why, or more importantly, how to go about it effectively. So the first thing we have to do, is realize that networking has an important business function, and that it is a vital part of your business’s marketing plan. Networking helps to generate leads, or find referral sources who will feed leads to you. It is an effective marketing tactic if you work it (think of it as net-WORK-ing). So the challenge most of us face is not knowing how to go about it in a way that gets us the results we expect from a good marketing tactic.
A good way to understand networking better is to go back to basics:
- Have a plan of attack – Consider what you want to get out of a networking event. How many business cards of new contacts do you want to collect? How many quality conversations will you have? How long will you spend “working” the event? Remember, networking events can easily deteriorate into a series of comfortable social conversations, which typically don’t do much for your business intentions.
- Be prepared – It’s amazing how many people don’t bring business cards to a networking event. Bring business cards and a pen (to jot down notes about contacts or your intended follow-up). Have a 30-second introduction! It’s important to be able to briefly state what your business is about in a way that is memorable, or that creates interest for the listener to learn more.
- Check your attitude – A positive, confident attitude does wonders for networking effectiveness. People want to be associated with people who look and sound pleasant and successful. Even if you’ve had a bad day, or facing a tough problem in your business, put it behind you for a couple of hours and act as if you are doing great.
- Use the perfect “pickup” line – In your dating days, you may have tried or heard a variety of corny pickup lines, but did you know that the best pickup line going is simply, “Hello, my name is _______”? The best way to introduce yourself to someone at a networking event is to simply, a) SMILE, b) stick out your handshake hand, and c) say, “Hi, my name is _______”. The beauty of this pickup line is that if you can’t remember it, you may find it written on your name tag!
- Ask questions. Don’t sell. – Ask about the other person(s). Ask about their business, their history, their family, their interests. Seek for ways that you might be able to help them. Make it all about them, not about you. But how will this help me attract interest in my business, you might ask. Well what happens is that by being genuinely interested in them, you will create the perception that you like them, and they in turn will begin to know, like and trust you. Eventually, they will ask about you, and you’ll have a chance to tell them about your business in a way that appeals to their business interests because of what you’ve learned.
- Focus – Be engaged with the person you’re speaking with. Focus on them, and try not to be distracted by the other activity and people around you. Good networking conversations only last 5-10 minutes, so you’ll have plenty of time to connect with others in the room.
- Ask for referrals – Every person you speak to may not be a good lead for your business, but they will be a potential source of a good referral. Ask them who they know who might be interested in your products and services.
- Followup – Don’t waste the fruits of your networking efforts. Followup by scheduling another get-together, or add them to your contact or newsletter lists.
Networking can occur almost anywhere and is an effective marketing tactic for all businesses, if done right. It doesn’t cost much, other than your time, it builds your personal brand, and expands your network of contacts. I love the following quote from Graham Southwell, National Director of BNI New Zealand: “Networking is all about farming… not hunting. Some people may take pride in being a hunter, but in today’s competitive business environment emphasis needs to be on creating strong connections with other business people. Networking needs to come from the heart – not the head…. The truth is, using your head to network means you are too focused on the outcome and not cultivating relationship. Cultivation is the key concept, as great networkers are farmers, not hunters.”
Owner of Baltus Group, LLC – Business Coach
Sheboygan, Wisconsin AreaManagement Consulting
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